Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The first time Benny got lost

Here's an interesting (myabe) historical curio, the first outline for Bernice Summerfield and the Lost Museum.
Benny and the Lost Museum
Synopsis by Simon Guerrier, 12 September 2004

Benny and Bev are the first human civilians to enter the city of Aname for nearly forty years. They are here at the request of the Federation army, who’ve faced increasing criticism of their efforts to liberate the city. News reports have blamed the sacking of the Aname Museum on the army’s own gung-ho attitude. For PR reasons, they’re sparing no expense in getting the experts in to sort it all out.

Benny’s annoyed to be working for the military who have such a cynical attitude to the museum’s collections. Nor is she happy to be saddled with Bev – whose own attitude to art treasures leaves a lot to be desired. Benny visited the museum nearly a century ago, and can testify first-hand to the importance of its collection. The news report she saw showed one particularly fine sculpture, the Head of Someone, in a battered and unloved state. She’s full of righteous indignation.

Bev, however, takes a more pragmatic approach. They’re just here to make the best of a bad job. The Federation army has only just liberated the city from the former regime, and the regime’s militia are still staging assaults in the suburbs, and threatening a major attack on the city any moment. Soldiers are being targeted, and Benny and Bev are both assigned bodyguards.

Locals approach them, saying they have genuine artefacts from the museum to sell. Bev wants to follow these leads up, but Benny says they need to investigate the museum first.

The museum is a mess – it’s been looted and variously used as a barracks, squat and toilet. Benny is overcome. The new curator speaks no English, and even the translator machines have trouble getting through (though it may be that the curator is just being evasive). Bev tries to get an inventory from the curator – of what the museum should have. It’s not forthcoming. There are too many locked doors and misplaced keys. And some of the empty display cases have not been damaged – so whoever removed the artefacts had access to keys…

Bev gets impatient, shouting at the curator that they’re trying to help. Benny has a museum catalogue from her earlier visit, and this they use as a preliminary inventory. But when Benny wants to show Bev the Head of Someone – the sculpture they know survived the looting because Benny saw it on the news – it’s nowhere to be found. Are things still going missing?

The head of the Federation army is not surprised – he’s called in ‘the experts’ because he’s not been able to get any sensible answers from the locals. However, he’s less bothered about helping out because the city is under siege from the militia. It seems the army’s claims to have liberated the city are a little exaggerated… So. Benny and Bev try – mostly separately - to make sense of what’s happened at the museum. Are the current curators responsible for the looting? Did the militia do it? Why’s it so difficult to get answers? Benny and Bev have very different and clashing ideas about how to go about finding out, what the priorities are, etc. The looting seems to have been going on during the regime, as well as during the battles. And, even the locked rooms are full of neglected, damaged items. It’s as if the museum has never looked after its collections well… As they investigate, the militia makes attempts on their lives. During the attempt on her life (and daring escape), Benny loses her precious museum catalogue – the one document they have to tell them what the museum should possess. The militia invade the city. The Federation army is more interested in people’s lives than bits of old stone, so uses the museum building as a stronghold during the battle. Benny offers her services as a soldier… Finally, the fighting mostly over, Benny is able to see the former curator of the museum, in prison as a figurehead of the old regime. He’s not just unapologetic, he shrugs off Benny’s concerns. Everyone was stealing stuff – to protect it, or to get one in the eye of the regime, or because they fancied items, or for any number of reasons. The museum is a treasure hoard and who is Benny to dictate the terms of what is important and what is not? Benny tries to argue that the museum is the one thing that might unite the city’s people. It gives them a shared past, an identity. At the end, the museum building is pretty much a ruin. The situation with lost artefacts is far worse than when Benny and Bev arrived, and Benny can only do as Bev first suggested – make the best of a bad job. They begin to list the artefacts they * do * have. The Federation army will find them temporary home until a new museum can be built. And, as they go about their inventory, all sorts of people appear, dropping off bits of this and that, artefacts squirreled away. Bev is keen to stop these people, interrogate them about how they acquired these priceless artefacts, but Benny says they should stop asking questions.

Characters: Benny; Bev; head of the Federation army; new curator of the museum; old curator of the museum; Benny and Bev’s bodyguards; various locals and soldiers.

1 comment:

Le Mc said...

So that's how it's done.